BATON ROUGE, LA (AP/WAFB) - A proposal that could allow Louisiana school employees to pray with students during the class day edged closer to final legislative passage despite concerns it could embroil the state in litigation.
Senate Bill 512: www.legis.la.gov
The measure by Sen. Ryan Gatti, a Bossier City Republican, would allow teachers and other workers to pray with students during the workday, if parents of every student in attendance submit a signed request and if the prayer is student-initiated.
Gatti said he proposed the legislation after lawsuits prompted the Bossier and Webster parish school boards to prohibit teachers and coaches from getting involved in student-initiated prayer. That includes bowing their heads, holding hands, and kneeling with students.
"I'll tell you, back home in these two parishes, it's the buckle of the Bible Belt," Gatti told the House Education committee Tuesday.
The committee voted 10-4 to advance the Senate-approved measure to the full House for debate.
Opponents of the bill say it likely would provoke a lawsuit, and they feared that lawsuit could undermine other existing so-called "religious freedom" laws on the books. Gatti says they're misunderstanding how his proposal would work.
Baton Rouge pastor Chris Andrews said he believes the intentions behind the bill are good, but he called it "unnecessary" and said public school teachers should not be preaching scripture.
"I believe in those scriptures," he said. "I honor them, and I've staked my life on proclaiming them, but I certainly don't want the government based upon that."
Andrews, who spent 22 years as pastor of First United Methodist Church, said bills politicizing prayer are misguided.
"In my opinion it trivializes the whole discipline of prayer and makes it into almost a kind of magic potion," he explained. "I have three wonderful grandchildren that my wife and I enjoy and love very much. We believe that we can teach them how to pray. They can learn that in their church, they can experience God's grace. Teachers need to teach. They've got a full agenda, and that's what children go to school for."